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My First Column on Obama Firsts!:

You can reasonably argue that if America gets caught up in the historical romance of the Obama family moving into the White House, it was the President Elect who started it. It was Obama himself who, on election night, stood before a global audience in the thrall of what had just occurred for history and modern progress… and announced that plans for a new puppy were well underway.

It was a heartwarming, humanizing touch. It was also the first salvo in Operation Feature Story, the unofficial campaign to make sure the light of our love for the new first family isn’t so dimmed by failing automakers and a gasping economy that we can’t stop and smell the puppies. Still, cuteness is a two-way street. While there are people who in one way or another make their living by shaping narratives about such things as adopted first family dogs, there has to be an audience for those narratives. If you buy a People magazine because it has exclusive first puppy photos, you’re part of the process.

Of course I want Malia and Sasha to have a dog. An adopted dog in the White House will raise the hopes of every pup currently waiting to be freed from a pound or shelter, assuming of course those facilities have cable. But we have to remember that Obama himself has advocated that a kind of tough love be applied to many of the troubling scenarios facing our nation, and we can be expected to return that tough love in terms of the work ahead. Yes, we support American automakers, especially the men and women who do the actual work. Big Three CEO’s in private jets… not so much. There has to be an edge to what we’re about to endeavor in turning things around for our country. We can’t melt just because the president of GM tells us that if there’s no bailout his adopted daschund “Mr. Puddles” will have to switch from canned to dry food.

There will be plenty that will be deeply stirring about inauguration day, and we’re entitled to every drop of that. But some of these “first” events, concerning either his family or the new president himself, will need to be tempered by the knowledge that Obama won because we believed that he was clearly the superior leader among the choices we were offered. And now it’s time to get busy.

It’s encouraging that the President Elect’s team is gathering momentum so quickly. One can almost imagine an uncomfortable phone call between Obama and Bush that broaches bumping-up the transition a few weeks. Obama: “Any way you could have your junk out of the building by, say, this Thursday instead?” Bush: “Well, we did have an office party planned. We might lose the deposit on the keg….”

That warning Obama gave us about things taking time and nothing changing overnight must now be heeded, and if we get restless waiting on that change, we need to be careful we don’t drown our sorrows in too many “Malia and Sasha go shopping for school clothes” stories. Our new first family is handsome, smart, and driven. But they are meant to be our partners in a new beginning, one with real traction and forward motion. We can love them, but the Obama family knows that love also means serious discussions about report cards. That includes Dad’s.

The President Elect has already indicated he’s not into having his family over-exposed and played for media content. Speaking of his daughters, Obama told Good Morning America, “Generally, what makes them so charming is the fact that they’re not spending a lot of time worrying about TV cameras or politics, and we want to keep it that way.” An Obama spokesman quickly poured cold water on an open invitation to the Obama daughters to appear on Hannah Montana, which surely disappointed Miley Ray and Billy Ray and the Executive Producer Money Ray. Obama himself seemed irritable when he was unable to take his daughters trick or treating on Halloween without cameras following. There’s every indication that this first family will show enormous restraint with feature story fever if we’ll just back off and allow them to do so.

Lyndon Johnson famously pulled up the tails of his shirt and showed the press his scars after surgery. I don’t remember what other world leaders thought of that, but maybe it helped humanize America when, like now, we weren’t that well-liked globally. However we just went through eight years of a “Relaxed Fit” president and while we’re once again unpopular, indications are that the world is glad that there’s a new seriousness arriving at the White House.

In one way or another, almost everything the new first family does in the next year or so will be some kind of “first.” Well, we might have some firsts of our own. This might be the first time that we backed off from a level of having to see and having to have video of every single thing our new leader’s family does. True, we simply lost interest in Bush because his appearances at state fairs and tractor pulls while the world was on fire largely because of him irritated the hell out of us. Let’s be enamored by the class and dignity the Obama family has already demonstrated and help them maintain that decorum by recognizing that they’re busy and Dad has work to do.

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